Just the beginning for UNC baseball

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It wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

No, it was supposed to be a foregone conclusion, a walk in the park, a — dare I say it — home run.

And for the first few months of the season, it looked like it would be. The North Carolina baseball team, a preseason No. 1 team by most, was an unparalleled force. It barreled its way through a relatively light early season schedule for a 39-2 start.

But it didn’t last.

Anyone who has sweat their way through extra inning upon extra inning, who has held their breath from pitch to pitch, who has sat permanently perched on the edge of their seat for the past month of games knows that the tail end of the journey to Omaha, Neb., has been anything but easy.

They should also know that it’s only going to get harder — starting with N.C. State on Sunday. The Tar Heels have work to do, and that’s a strange way to describe a team that has played its way to college baseball’s grandest stage.

Throughout the postseason, the Tar Heels have shown both painful vulnerability and an unwavering spirit to win.

And they displayed both this weekend in full force, winning two out of three Super Regional games against South Carolina by just the skin of their teeth. There were plenty of reasons why they shouldn’t have advanced and plenty of questions that linger for the College World Series.

Pitchers Kent Emanuel, Hobbs Johnson and Benton Moss combined for 6.1 innings, 15 hits and 10 earned runs. Will that version of the starting rotation show up again, or will it go back to being one of the strongest units in the nation?

UNC fielders committed five errors in the Super Regional — including a dropped fly ball Tuesday that briefly handed the Gamecocks a lead. Surely, they’ll need to clean up their defense before heading westward.

And which Colin Moran and Skye Bolt will we see in Omaha? UNC’s No. 3 and No. 4 hitters have gone a combined 13-for-58 in the postseason, but Moran delivered a clutch triple Tuesday, and Bolt had the walk-off hit Saturday. UNC will need all of the offense it can get, and it will undoubtedly need both of these hitters to produce in the middle of the batting order.

Despite those deficiencies, UNC still managed to survive and advance this weekend, as it has done throughout the entire postseason. South Carolina center fielder Tanner English compared playing UNC to a knife fight ­— an apt description.

It may not be clean. It may not be easy, but if any team can come out of this tournament bruised and bloody — and still victorious — it’s this one.

Thanks for reading.

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